Port CEO: Canada’s trade diversification relies on Vancouver

10th annual address highlights growth opportunity, warns of capacity constraints

Trade uncertainty between partners on either side of the 49th parallel and national efforts to diversify Canadian trade have scaled up what was already a significant economic opportunity for Greater Vancouver, says Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) president and CEO Robin Silvester.

“Growing Canadian trade diversification really depends on Vancouver,” he told the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) during his 10th annual address to its members.

When the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes into force at the end of December, Silvester expects the port to fairly immediately notice an impact.

Over the next five years, the port is forecasting annual growth of 4%, largely as a result of business in emerging markets.

Strong consumer demand in those markets and in Canada, along with the growth of e-commerce, is something Silvester says the port – and the region, and the country – need to prepare for.

“I’m waiting at the moment for a piece of sports equipment that’s been dispatched to me from California, and it’s stuck … in Edmonton. How does that happen?” said Silvester to laughs from the crowd.

He warned however that it is a symptom of a much greater issue.

“We’re going to have to get used to that because we have not got the land to build the capacity for the needs of the population here, never mind the needs of growing trade.”

The loss of industrial land in Greater Vancouver is one of two major areas of concern for Silvester, who told Business in Vancouver he would like to see the provincial and federal governments get involved in regional efforts to address the land crunch.

“I wish we could say we’ve made more progress,” he noted.

The second area of concern is Canada’s regulatory process, and the length of time it takes for projects to get approved.

He pointed to the port’s proposed $2 billion Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project as an example.

With luck, Silvester said, public hearings on the project will take place next year, four years after the port first filed its environmental impact statement. Silvester expects to receive a decision on the project two years after that.

“It’s an essential project. And with all of the capacity options that are available, and permitted today and built, both here and in Prince Rupert, we will run out of capacity depending on the exact growth rate, sometime around 2025,” he said.

“There is no other project, in permitting, that could deliver that Canadian need, in that time.”

When asked about Global Container Terminals' (GCT) expansion efforts at GCT Deltaport and whether the Port of Prince Rupert posed a competitive threat to Vancouver, he said competition is healthy and that the capacity is needed.

“As a country, we have to be able to make good environmental decisions in a more timely way, and I worry that we’re not succeeding on that.”